It couldn’t have come at a time more hostile toward the Christian/Catholic faith. I was in college and seething like Christopher Hitchens or Bill Maher with less than subtle contempt for ‘the faith’. Why? Well for starters I had been to a dungeon in Italy that housed the horrors of the Inquisition. I knew the story of Giordano Bruno. I was dating a girl whose sexuality was crushed when her boyfriend took her virginity and called her a sinner and a whore. I had a good friend who was tortured with catholic guilt every week for making out with pretty girls at a party. I had read Nietzsche’s “AntiChrist”, Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian” and I was determined to write a more devastating book than both of them combined.
But there I was... Sitting on the floor of a clay adobo and coming to the realization that one of the most important tenets of Christianity was real. There was a heaven and a hell. Of course, they got the details all wrong but after that moment my views changed a little bit. Not enough to go to church, but enough to tolerate it as a you would a weed in your neighbor’s garden--The owner would be better off without it, but mayhaps it was not my concern.
The journey to this powerful realization started with a mushroom tea brewed with care by a compassionate shaman. It was my first encounter with psilocybin, or any entheogen for that matter, and it was this experience that laid the foundation for my experiential beliefs. A decade later it is not easy to remember the exact sensations and thoughts that were going through my mind as I took my maiden voyage to the other side, but the visions and truths are still as crisp as the moment they materialized. While my mind detached from its earthly confines I had a vision of walking in a field of wheat. It was very much the scene from Gladiator, except I could feel it. Every wispy golden stalk that brushed my hand was like the ecstatic caress of God Itself--only i didn’t believe in God! Then slowly the wheat field faded, and the ‘aha’ moment came when my physical senses started to dissolve.
The sensation of my breath slowed to the point where the air circulated through me without effort from my lungs. The feeling of my back pressed against the ground melted into nothing. The echo of my heartbeat became a drum in the distance. Then all sensation ceased. Somehow this was not frightening, only liberating. I felt consciousness lift from my body and hover several feet above where the liquid meat sack I was so attached to lay. At that moment I was hit with a massive download of truth and clarity that would have me spending the next 16 hours wide-eyed in the night, feverishly putting ink to my revelations on the pages of my journal.
Most importantly was my first experiential discovery that we were comprised of at least two parts, one being a non-physical entity that I had no better word for than ‘soul’ and the other being the ‘body’. It was inescapably clear that the soul, while linked to the body for the duration of one’s life, survived the death of that body and carried with it the consciousness and memory of one’s life. But there was another phenomenon that happens when the soul leaves the body. One that lead me to understand the true nature of heaven and hell: perfect clarity.
At first, the idea of perfect clarity may not seem that revolutionary. This is because we arrogantly assume that we are all operating currently with close to perfect clarity. This delusion is precisely what allows us to stray so far from it! When I say perfect clarity what I mean is a perfect St. Peter / God type of clarity. A clarity that will tell you the right and wrong of every action you did, from the piece of trash you littered that caused 15 people to be bummed out when they went on their nature walk, to how you treated your first girlfriend during your break up.
You review these actions and deeds with a perfect fairness, and a true understanding of your motivations. Your life is on trial and you, a perfect judge, are in charge of the proceedings. Inevitably what happens for most people is probably a mix of both pride and disappointment at the way one lived. If you lived largely an honorable life, putting good into the world wherever possible, a great pride will swell in the core of your soul. You will re-live the smiles of your sons and daughters, the laughter of your friends, the gratitude of those you have helped, and the appreciation for those who mourn your loss. When you have finished looking back on the life you lived, you enter the bliss that is the freedom from earthly struggle. This is heaven.
However, if you have lived wickedly all of the rationalizations and excuses that have allowed you to do so will become completely transparent. Like a horror movie, you will be pinned with eyelids open and forced to watch every evil deed and the pain that it caused to the life around you. The feelings of intense shame and guilt would be greater than the physical pains of any fire and brimstone hell.
Imagine a man who beats his wife. In that man’s head he justifies his actions by convincing himself that she deserved the beating. Either she was lazy, or she was lusty, whatever his reasoning may be, it allows him to hide from the truth of his deeds. When the soul leaves the body the lens he carefully built to sustain his actions gets yanked away and he sees himself for the monster that he is. He sees his knuckles smashing into the soft flesh of a scared girl that wants desperately to love him... A girl that he swore to protect. A girl that opened her womb to him, trusted him with her safety and her life. He sees this hurt girl and the pain--physical, emotional, and psychological that he inflicted on her throughout life. He sees that he had a chance to help her, to make her life better while enriching his own, or perhaps just to leave her be, and he could not do it. He failed. And there is no way to change it. All he can do is mourn, and cry, and wish that he could put himself in her place. He wants to smash his own head against a wall, to pull his hair, to take his own life perhaps. But he can’t... All he can do is recall what he did as he cries a million tears that never fall on his cheek. This is hell.
But unlike the Bible’s hell, there is forgiveness. Likely it comes when your own torment equals the pain you caused, and you open yourself to forgiveness or offer yourself to the possibility of a redemptive re-incarnation. Also notably differing from the Biblical hell, are the sinners tormented by healthy sex drives. When your soul leaves your body, you are not gonna be concerned about that time you hooked up with that sorority girl in her dorm room, or busted out your fleshlight. It is absolute fairness, based on a perfect morality, and humans are sexual beings.
What makes life interesting is free will, which is truly made possible only by forfeiting the perfect clarity of death, while in life. When we are incarnated we ‘forget’ the truth of the existence beyond, and that gives us a clean slate from which to operate. If we did not forget, we would be restricted by a built in set of morality. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing? But for whatever reason that is the way it goes. There are a lot of traditions that talk about Karma, but that is not anything that I have clarity on from any of my journeys. All I have learned is that we do re-incarnate and that we forget every time that we do. I hope that in my future explorations I will learn more about this process.
But don’t leave it up to me to figure out and tell you. Go seek it yourself! That is the difference between experiential based spirituality and faith based spirituality. Everything I am telling you here, you can go and verify. It may not be easy, but it can be done. I am not special in any way-- Just blessed with an opportunity, the right connections, and the means to explore the realms beyond. So don’t take my word for it. Find a shaman, or forge your own way and discover it for yourself. That way when you pass from this life, you’ll be ready for what comes next.